Sunday, February 26, 2012

Politicians, Religion and College, Oh My!

Santorum made lots of news for criticizing Obama's goal of increasing the number of folks going to college.  There is so much here to discuss, but I will try to focus on a few key points:
  • It really depends on what you think it takes to compete in a 21st century economy.  We usually think that more education is helpful for developing a critical and adaptable mind so that people can adjust to changes in what are the desired skills.  But, if you want an American workforce that competes by being cheaper than Europeans and focusing on less skilled parts of the economy, then perhaps a university education is not so beneficial.  Of course, the problem is that a college degree remains highly related to making more money.  Not getting a college degree is highly correlated with working jobs that have hourly wages and crappy benefits.  But perhaps that is Santorum's market?
  • Attacking universities makes sense if one wants to appeal to folks who are not planning on sending their kids to universities.  Since over half of today's kids go to university, this plan is akin to Sarah Palin's "real America"--white rural America.  That is, Santorum seems to be seeking votes from the non-median voter, as many of the GOP candidates seem to be.  This might make sense in the primaries, but when Romney or not-Romney competes with Obama, this is going to be a big problem.  I have long argued here at the Spew that the GOP faces a huge problem of being a party seeking the votes of a declining part of America.  With Santorum's anti-contraception stuff of late, it almost seems as if he just wants votes from white males from the South and rural parts of the midwest and mountain states.  
  • Finally, Santorum's appeals make sense to me if he is really just trying to win the evangelical vote, as the best right-wing candidate.  Why?  Because some religious folks are mighty suspicious of what they teach at universities.  Not just that one might lose their religiosity (which studies show not to be true), but what they teach at universities.  
    • One of the most memorable moments in my time at TTU was teaching the Freshman seminar one year.  The class is aimed at teaching a variety of skills before the semester starts and then for the first few weeks of their first month at college, including money management, study skills, time management, etc.  One of the parts of the class was on diversity since students were coming from all over Texas but might not be used to being in classes and dorms with students from rural areas or from cities, from wealthy neighborhoods or poor ones, of different races, of different language backgrounds, etc.  So, it came up that most students at TTU at the time were Christian and a particular kind of Christianity--evangelical.  
    • The idea was to point out that there were other folks at the school who were not--Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Atheists, whatever.  But the conversation led to a question which missed the point of the exercise: if everyone here is Christian (no, they are not all Christian), why do THEY teach evolution?  As one of the points of the freshman seminar was to teach critical thinking, I went along with this thread and asked them why evolution was taught there.  The conversation then circled around the idea that other folks believed it so it was important to understand what they were thinking.  I ultimately ended the conversation by explaining that evolution was foundational to biology, chemistry, geology, economics, sociology, political science, anthropology and other areas of inquiry.  
    • But the larger point that became obvious was that these students were warned that "they taught evolution" at TTU.  That universities are places where stuff is taught that is contrary to some dogma and thus one should be wary of such places.  Thus, Santorum is likely playing to that audience.  Again, not a great idea for the long haul, but he needs to win the nomination first by being the best at representing the views of folks who show up at Republican primaries. 
Ethnic outbidding is usually bad for the country even if it makes sense in the short term for the politician.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Santorum's war against education seems odd considering his 3 university degrees. But as you said, not so odd when considering the crowd he's pandering to.

Republicans have taken their traditional anti-elitism (again, odd, considering the people they elect are rarely if ever below upper middle class) and transformed it into anti-intellectualism. It seems unfathomable to think that some people believe education is a bad thing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who believe this often want it to be true, because they themselves lack much (if any) post-secondary education.

There is definitely some truth to the argument that university is not for everyone and we tend to stigmatize skills work and trade school. I see this less at McGill but saw it all the time at my previous (cheap, no-name, state) university, students who could not have cared less and/or simply couldn't cut it at the university level but were there simply to get the degree. Because they were told from the time they were young that they wouldn't succeed if they didn't have a 4-year degree. And what do we see now: people with university degrees having to do unpaid internships or temp jobs because there simply aren't enough "white-collar" jobs or there are too many people with the same degree. Meanwhile, there's a big demand for people with skills but a lack of people with those skills to meet that demand.

So I don't necessarily agree with the President that we need to be pushing as many people as possible into university. I think there's actually a lot of stress on the system from overcrowding, which you've alluded to before in previous posts I believe. We should be investing heavily in community colleges and trade schools, working to make education more affordable, and working to fix the stigma attached to work not requiring a 4-year degree.